Cancer Changed How I Parent


In the depths of chemotherapy, I found myself oscillating between being gloriously present and embarrassingly permissive.

When I was diagnosed with stage 3c colon cancer at 37 years old, my first thoughts were of my two little kids. I feared what my cancer would mean for my six-month-old baby and 3-year-old.

How would I explain everything to my older daughter? What would this mean for my baby? How would I be there for both of them through surgery, chemotherapy, tests, scans and the millions of appointments that I could see in my future?

My diagnosis and subsequent treatment turned my world upside down. It changed my marriage, my friendships and my career. And, somewhere between juggling appointments and putting food on the table, it changed my parenting too. 

In spite of, or maybe because of, all the ways cancer made my life more difficult, it allowed me to be present with my kids in a way that I hadn’t before. I was able to drop into moments of playing on the rug, reading on the couch, or just hanging around together.

And, at the same time, I learned how to let it all go.

There were so many times when I simply couldn't be physically present because I felt sick or I was racing between appointments or just because I was scared and needed to let my kids watch more TV, skip brushing their teeth, eat pizza all week, or have dessert for dinner. In the depths of chemotherapy, I found myself oscillating between being gloriously present and embarrassingly permissive.

Being pulled between those two poles allowed me to drop into the basics and helped me to realize that it was exactly the place I most wanted to parent from. Instead of trying to be the perfect parent, I wanted to be guided by the most fundamental questions: Do my kids feel safe? Do they feel loved? Do they feel cared for?

I’ve been asked countless times how my cancer has changed me for the better or what are some lessons learned. If I’m honest, I resent the question. I want nothing more than to have never had cancer but the truth is, I had cancer and I also learned a lot.

I was never going to be a parent that makes cookies on a whim, organizes elaborate birthday parties or remembers to sign up for swim lessons early enough to avoid being on a waitlist. But one of the lessons that cancer taught me, and that I hold tight in my heart, is that it turns out all of that is OK. 

I don’t remember this lesson as much as I want to and despite my best intentions, my cancer experience doesn’t always guide how I parent. I still feel a lot of guilt when I’m not showing up the way that I want whether I’m preoccupied on my phone or too easily riled. And still, cancer taught me that when I can let those feelings go and dial in, I can become the parent that I was meant to be.

This post was written and submitted by Haley Pollack. The article reflects the views of Haley Pollack and not of CURE®. This is also not supposed to be intended as medical advice.

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